After a lengthy trial, a hung jury couldn’t reach a verdict against a 24-year-old California man accused of murdering a man in the West End in 2020, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney will retry the case in February.
On Thursday (Dec. 15), the jury remained deadlocked on whether Ahmed Mohammed Shareef should be charged with murder or manslaughter in the Nov. 2020 shooting death of 23-year old Yousef Omar. The jury did, however, find Shareef guilty of racketeering with 20 others for operating a drug trafficking organization between the D.C. Metro area and Los Angeles, California.
Shareef is claiming self-defense and pleaded not guilty to all charges. He will be retried for the murder charge on February 16, Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter told ALXnow.
“The jury trial was extremely lengthy,” Porter said. “It started the very beginning of November, and was a six-week trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted him of racketeering, but was unable to reach a verdict on the murder charge. The case has been continued to February 16.”
Sentencing is being withheld for the racketeering charges until the conclusion of the upcoming murder trial. Shareef faces life in prison for the murder charge and up to 40 years for the racketeering charge.
Omar was found shot multiple times in the driver’s seat of a 2016 silver Mercedes E350 on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 17, 2020. A firearm was found near Omar’s body, as well as numerous shell casings, indicating that he fired at his attacker. A half-hour after the shooting, Shareef checked himself into Howard University Hospital with a gunshot wound, police said in a search warrant affidavit.
The investigation of the drug trafficking organization resulted in the arrest of 20 individuals, including Shareef, and the seizure of $500,000 worth of marijuana, nearly $275,000 in cash, 23 firearms, cocaine and other drugs, digital scales, money counters, fake identifications and a number of vehicles.
“The investigation also revealed that the likely motive (of the murder) was over an unresolved drug debt and potential interference by the victim to pry customers away from the (drug trafficking organization),” police said in a search warrant affidavit.
A witness told police that they saw Shareef and Omar in the Mercedes, parked across the street from the Newport Village apartment complex near Fort Ward Park.
The witness saw Shareef “exit the vehicle and proceed to shoot the victim multiple times as he sat in the driver’s seat, striking him multiple times,” according to the search warrant affidavit. “The suspect then ran to a waiting vehicle, entering the front passenger seat and fleeing the scene.”
The incident was the third and final homicide of 2020.
A police investigation determined that Shareef and his co-conspirators ferried marijuana from Los Angeles to the D.C. Metro area in large suitcases on commercial airliners. In many instances, the suspect who checked the baggage in California would not get on flights and the bags, with different names on identification tags, would be picked up by other suspects in Virginia. The marijuana in the luggage was found in vacuum-sealed bags.
“The method included top tier traffickers purchasing flights for individuals and packing large suitcases with other materials to conceal large quantities of marijuana, ensuring that the bag was checked approximately 50 minutes before the flight left and would often be picked up by different individuals at DCA (Washington Reagan International Airport) and IAD (Dulles International) airports in the Commonwealth,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.
(The story previously said incorrectly that Shareef is defending himself. That is not accurate. He is instead claiming self-defense.)
A man acquitted by reason of insanity for a brutal stabbing death in Old Town has been ordered to stay off all social media except LinkedIn.
The news came Thursday afternoon, after 38-year-old Pankaj Bhasin was ordered by the Alexandria Circuit Court to stay off the websites after lying about himself and his whereabouts during a period that he was in prison for murder.
Bhasin was conditionally released from the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services in May — four years after stabbing 65-year-old Brad Jackson to death with a box cutter. Bhasin said that he thought Jackson was a werewolf, and stabbed him 53 times. He was conditionally released on May 27, 2022, after being diagnosed as bipolar by five doctors and found not guilty by reason of insanity in July 2019.
After his release, Bhasin opened a Facebook page where he listed that he was in India at the time of the murder, according to court records. He also created dating application profiles and wrote that he’d recently returned from traveling for two years.
“I’m an easy going adventurer who believes in a universal connection with all and love to explore n try new things,” Bhasin wrote on a dating app, according to the motion to amend the terms of his conditional release. “Also, recently getting back from two years of travel…”
Bhasin also wrote that he is interested in “travel, kayaking, dancing, photography, camping, reading, concert n all things fun,” and that he has an ENFP-A personality — someone who is extraverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving.
Bhasin’s attorney, Peter Greenspun, sent out a statement that Bhasin is “doing extremely well,” but did not discuss the decision of the court. He said that Bhasin is remorseful for Jackson’s death.
“Mr. Bhasin is not on any social media or dating sites,” Greenspun said. “He has and will continue to follow all of the directions of the City of Alexandria Circuit Court.”
A review hearing is scheduled for December to assess Bhasin’s release.
A 21-year-old Alexandria man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the Sept. 30, 2020, murder of John Pope in the West End.
On June 30, Tavon Marquis Lanier was sentenced to 73 years in prison — with all but 20 years suspended — for his convictions of second-degree murder, two counts of using a firearm in commission of a felony, grand larceny and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
When released from prison, Lanier will be on supervised probation for 10 years.
Pope was shot to death on Sept. 30 at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. It was the second murder (of three) that occurred in Alexandria in 2020.
“The investigation showed that on September 30, 2020, Lanier shot and killed John Pope in his apartment located on Quantrell Avenue while attempting to steal prescription drugs lawfully prescribed to Pope,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said in a release. “After the shooting, Lanier took the prescription drugs and made good his escape.”
Lanier was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed. He was arrested on Sept. 22 for for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.
Lanier is held at the Alexandria Adult Detention Center and will be transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
A 44-year-old Fairfax County man was arrested on June 22 and faces multiple charges for a February 22 crash on Duke Street that resulted in the death of a driver and injuries to other drivers.
Carlos Kami Adar McKethan was arrested subsequent to a direct Grand Jury indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of Phencyclidine (PCP), according to the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.
“It is alleged the defendant was the driver of a vehicle which struck another vehicle,” Porter’s office said in a release. “As a result of the collision, the driver of the struck vehicle was killed.”
McKethan is being held without bail in the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center awaiting trial. No trial date has been set.
Five vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred at around at around 11:50 p.m. in the 3200 block of Duke Street. Three people were trapped in two different vehicles after the crash.
“The crash resulted in one fatality, one critical injury, one serious injury, and two minor injuries,” Alexandria Police said in a release. “Preliminary investigation suggests speed may have been a contributing factor in this incident.”
Vehicular manslaughter is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail, and driving under the influence of PCP is punishable by up to a year in jail.
News Release:: APD Investigates a Multi-Vehicle Crash
The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a multi-vehicle crash that occurred late Tuesday evening.
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) February 23, 2022
Map via Google Maps
Three men are facing years behind bars for the January shooting in a West End 7-Eleven parking lot that left a bystander shot in the neck.
On March 14, the Alexandria Grand Jury charged city residents Maurice Turner, 18, and Donovan Copeland, 20, and Fairfax County resident Damonte Martin, 21, with three felonies: malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and maliciously shooting at an occupied vehicle.
The incident occurred on Jan. 9 at around 3:20 p.m. in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at 30 S. South Reynolds Street. The Alexandria Police Department reported that two of the suspects left the store, got into a parked car and then fired multiple shots at another car.
“During the shooting, an innocent bystander was shot in the neck and transported to the hospital,” according to the office of Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “The victim was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.”
The trio were pulled over and arrested shortly after the incident by Alexandria Police.
The men will be tried together, and a trial date has not been set. They are being held without bond in the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center.
The malicious wounding charge is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison; the shooting at an occupied vehicle charge is punishable by up to 10 years; and the use of a firearm in commission of a felony charge is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.
The George Washington Birthday Parade returned to Alexandria on Monday after a two year hiatus. The streets of Old Town were lined with celebration for Washington’s 290th birthday.
Alexandria’s health care workers and first responders marched as parade grand marshals. The parade, which started at Gibbon and Fairfax Streets and snaked around City Hall, was attended by thousands. The event is the largest of its kind in the world honoring the founding father and first president.
Over the last decade, Alexandria’s jail has been getting a little less crowded.
Since 2011, the average population at the William Truesdale Adult Detention has generally trended downward. Even pre-COVID there was an 18% population decrease since 2011, which only became more pronounced during the pandemic. In 2011, the average daily population in the Alexandria jail was 430. In 2019 it was 352. This year it’s 277.
Alexandria isn’t alone in this. Nationwide, the incarceration rate has been on the decline since peaking around 2008, according to Pew Research. In Fairfax County, the jail population has nearly halved sine 2010.
Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said that, beyond the national trend, some of that decline comes from a local move away from incarceration as the primary response to conviction. Porter said at his office that the emphasis has been on mental health treatment and substance abuse court to decrease the number of people in jail for property crimes and non-violent offenses.
“I also think you have to give some credit, how much I don’t know, to the fact that in Alexandria we have tried to put more emphasis on addressing the root problems of crime,” Porter said. “The Alexandria Jail is known for the programs of people housed there, like GED and substance abuse programs to give them the tools to reduce recidivism.”
Porter said both state-wide prison populations and local jail populations have been gradually trending downward for inmates with non-violent charges or convictions. Overall crime has been declining as well, though Porter acknowledged that violent crime has been increasing.
“Over the past 12-24 months nationwide there has been an uptick in violent offenses,” Porter said, “and I think [locally] we’ve seen that we’ve had some increase in firearm incidents.”
Sheriff-elect Captain Sean Casey said some of the jail population decreases could be credited to legislative changes.
“The legislature has made legal changes over the years that deal with criminal justice reform,” Casey said. “There’s been bond reforms, so more people are getting bonds and getting out, rather than just sitting in jail. If more people are getting out on bond, that’s fewer people (who) are in here.”
Casey said those changes have reduced the number of inmates in jail for larceny or drug charges.
Porter is a little more skeptical that state-level changes have impacted the local jail population.
“At least locally, state changes haven’t had as much of an impact, because my office has historically been ahead of the curve on these issues,” Porter said. “For instance, even though larceny threshold remained $200 until 2020 or 2019, we had upped it internally and were not prosecuting thefts for less than that as felonies. Same thing with drug possession. Simple possession: we’ve always been really keen to get those cases diverted or treated as misdemeanors. But the reality for marijuana was no one was going to jail for simple possession. I don’t think statewide changes really have had much of an impact on the jail population locally.” Read More
Bryan Porter says he must be doing something right.
Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, just won an uncontested reelection as a Democrat for his third term.
“I must be doing something right,” Porter said of the election. “Hopefully it shows that I’ve got the right blend of forward-thinking policies, and that I help keep the community safe.”
A lifelong Alexandrian, Porter took office in 2014, and spent his first two years in office consumed with prosecuting Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience.
“When I first got elected, an elected politician who will remain nameless told me, ‘Hey, you just got just got elected. Don’t screw this up,'” Porter told ALXnow. “That was his mantra. I like to think that eight years in I haven’t screwed it up, and my goal is to leave the office with its reputation intact, so I can hand it off successfully to whoever comes after me.”
Porter continued, “Remember that I’m just one small drop of water in the ocean of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.”
Porter, who has tried 11 murder trials and more than 50 jury trials, would also go on to write a children’s book in 2019. He is credited with founding the Alexandria Mental Health Initiative and the Alexandria Treatment Court as alternatives to jail for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“I’m very humble about the whole thing,” Porter said of the election. “And the only reason I’ve done so well is because my predecessor, Randy Sengel, left me very good office without hardly any personnel issues or policy issues. I’ve got really good people working for me, we seem to do a pretty good job of recruiting and getting really good people to work.”
Porter lives with his wife in Old Town. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.
A 23-year-old man is awaiting extradition to Alexandria for the November 7 murder of a man in the West End.
Ahmed Mohammed Shareef, of Cosa Mesta, California, was indicted by a Grand Jury for killing 23-year-old Yousef Tarek Omar in the 4800 block of West Braddock Road. It was the City’s third and final homicide of 2020.
“It is alleged that the murder was committed in furtherance of the drug trafficking organization,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Shareef is one of 17 people indicted and arrested on charges related to a racketeering conspiracy that involved a “complex drug trafficking organization” allegedly responsible for the sale of approximately $500,000 worth of marijuana.
The investigation, which included multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the region and in Washington State and California, resulted in the seizure of at least 23 firearms, including three assault rifles and high capacity magazines. At least $274,795 in U.S. currency was also taken, in addition to cocaine and other controlled substances, digital scales and electronic money counters, fake identification and driver’s license cards, and multiple vehicles.
“I want to thank the Alexandria Police Department’s Vice/Narcotics Section and the multitude of partner law enforcement agencies for their diligent and professional work on this investigation,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said. “The collaborative effort between the partner law enforcement agencies shows true professionalism and determination to halt the cycle of violence inherent in complex drug trafficking organizations.”
Shareef faces life in prison for the murder charge, three years for the firearms charge and up to 40 years for the racketeering charge.
No trial dates have been set.
Suit alleging admissions discrimination at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology moves forward — “More than 70 percent of the student body at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is Asian American; Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented there for decades. At a hearing Friday in Alexandria, lawyers for the Fairfax County School Board urged a judge to toss out the lawsuit. They argue that the new admissions policies are race-neutral. But the judge ruled that the parents’ group made a compelling claim that the board’s true motivation was to increase Black and Hispanic representation at the expense of Asian Americans.” [WAVY.com]
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra extends contract for Maestro James Ross — “The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) announced that Music Director James Ross received a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Ross has been at the helm of ASO since 2018. He is the fifth music director in ASO’s 78-year history.” [Zebra]
Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office tackling workplace stress with wellness challenge — “May is National Employee Health and Wellness Month. For the first time, my office has fully embraced that designation by implementing our ‘Mindful May Wellness Challenge.’ In addition to providing our employees with advice on mindfulness, we have constructed a month of activities and events designed to focus on employee wellness.” [AlexTimes]
Alexandria Drive-In announces June movies — “Tickets are $40 per car, and food trucks will be on-site each night providing delish, savory, and sweet concessions with online ordering through Goodfynd! Proceeds from the movie series will benefit local Alexandria charity, ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab.” [Alexandria Living]
New sign unveiled in Del Ray for hero Rocky Versace — “Alexandria’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Del Ray bears Versace’s name and now, through the efforts of the Friends of Rocky Versace and the City of Alexandria, that narrative was unveiled May 15 during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the local landmark.” [Gazette]
Local businesses struggle adapting to new mask guidance — ‘”My fear is that people will say they’re vaccinated when they’re not vaccinated and then just walk around unmasked,’ said Nicole McGrew, owner of the clothing and accessories boutique Threadleaf in Old Town Alexandria.” [NPR]
This Friday is the deadline to request a ballot by mail — “Last day to request a ballot by mail for the June 8 Democratic Party Primary Election. Applications must be received in the Voter Registration Office by 5pm. Applications may be submitted online (http://elections.virginia.gov) or by mail, fax (703.838.6449) or email ([email protected])” [City of Alexandria]
Today’s weather — “Overcast with rain showers at times. High around 70F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%… Rain showers early with overcast skies late. Low 59F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]
New job: Surveillance investigator — “DigiStream Investigations, a fast-growing private investigations firm, seeks a full-time Surveillance Investigator to work under general supervision, investigating suspicious worker’s compensation claims from various corporate clients in the state of Virginia. This autonomous position is both journalistic and investigative in nature, and centers around obtaining quality video footage and detailed report rendering on the activities captured by the investigator.” [Indeed]